Over 90 Years of History
In 1931, 14-year-old tennis player Herb Markwort learned to restring his rackets because he couldn’t afford to pay to have someone else do it.
Soon fellow players came knocking and he charged a dollar to restring their rackets. His shop was set up on his parents’ back porch in St. Louis, leading a nosy neighbor to inquire if he had a business license. The next day Herb went downtown to get one and Markwort Sporting Goods was born.
As the top-ranked high school tennis player in St. Louis, Herb went on to play at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was undefeated in his first two years. At the same time, he opened a sporting goods store on Grand Avenue. A couple years later Herb acquired the tennis shop concession while serving as the youngest athletic director at Triple A Tennis Club in Forest Park. During this time Herb organized tennis tournaments that drew stars like Bobby Riggs (of Battle of the Sexes fame) and convinced the club to let him hold free clinics, which attracted up to 400 people.
Herb left Washington University after his sophomore year to focus on his growing retail business and Markwort line of products, starting out with tennis rackets, including the Markwort Green Flash and Markwort Pro Line. When Herb tried to stock the store with products from other companies, he wasn’t able to get the main brands, which often didn’t even return his calls.
At the time, there was a larger sporting goods store in downtown St. Louis that carried the big four brands – Rawlings, Wilson, Spalding, and MacGregor. This led Herb to reach out to secondary brands and stock up on their goods.
Herb was always open to new products and was one of the first stores in the area to sell snow skis. In 1944, the year of the only all-St. Louis World Series, Herb opened a larger retail store.
After World War II, when soldiers came back and were looking for work, some asked if they could buy Herb’s products wholesale, and then sell them in the surrounding towns where they lived. That’s how Herb got into wholesale. The company’s first wholesale warehouse was on 9th Street downtown, then relocated a year later to what is now the site of Ballpark Village and Busch Stadium.
The company had to move again in 1960, to make way for downtown redevelopment that included construction of the old Busch Stadium, this time to the Central West End, where it remained for 44 years. Markwort Sporting Goods then moved to Creve Coeur, which it still calls home today.
Meanwhile, the company’s two retail stores were sold in the early 1970s, and as the business grew, Herb concentrated on wholesaling a broader line of sporting goods. At one point the Markwort catalog grew to over 800 pages.
The company began exhibiting at trade shows, first in the U.S., and then internationally, beginning with the 1980 Munich ISPO, helping the company to grow into a company with sales worldwide.
Herb died in 1989, and his son, Herb Markwort Jr., took over the company, which he runs with his two adult sons, Herbie Markwort III and Brett Markwort, continuing the vision started by the entrepreneurial patriarch almost 90 years ago.
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